We all know the story. Phone OS updates. We seem to be forever beholden to the whim of carriers as to when we get them, or if we even get them at all. Here in Australia, we have in all honesty fared better than other markets – I’m looking at you US! So what does the future hold in this area? Those of you in the Insiders preview program (of beta OS deployments) have been seeing updates direct from Microsoft. Is this what we can all expect once we are on Windows Mobile 10? Well a word of caution….it may not be that easy based on past experience. Don’t reach for that spoon until you and your soup are out the shop door!
Past experience has shown us mixed results for Windows Phone updates in Australia – but overall it has generally been an improving trend with the majority of devices (Nokia/MS) on the majority of AU carriers. In actual fact, Aussie telcos have come a long way in the last 5 years or so in managing and communicating OS updates Down Under. It’s hard to believe that it’s almost 4 and a 1/2 years since we led the charge with Telstra and helped bring about their first device OS update table for customers! Now we have this level of detail for customers – with regular monthly updates and comm’s from staff in these areas.
This table tells another story too – but more on that shortly.
So Microsoft have suggested through comments made earlier this year in the developer space that they will be taking more control of updates. As usual, in the MS space, Paul Thurrott probably captured this more succinctly and with extra detail compared to other blogs and news sources. You can check out his full post here. In the first of the 2 slides he shares, the update process steps have really only changed by MS’s Nokia acquisition – in that they are both OS and device testers for updates to Lumia handsets, and OS updaters for 3rd party OEM’s (new ones announced…but little other than Aldi’s phone in retail here as yet). Sure, filling both roles will cut down on some time – and comms delays between MS and Nokia former company divisions, but this is not the only step.
It is the far right green box which is the critical one here. It always has been – and until it is proven otherwise in the future Microsoft envisage – somewhat cynically it is the future I still see ahead for MS also. Whilst we would all love MS to get to the position Apple enjoy in the market with OS updates to their customer’s, there are a number of reasons I feel this gap is more than just a bridge too far for MS. Apple of course got to their unique position through getting in earlier with revolutionising the mobile device – and driving unprecedented consumer demand for their product. Their channel power and lack of complexity in their original model had carrier’s and retailers falling over themselves to get in on their success. And that control has remained a leader’s position Apple have continued to the present day.
Android has not even come close to such channel control – despite as a platform – overtaking total share of the mobile market in many markets around the world including Australia. Windows Phone is in a far more inferior position in channel influence and consumer demand and will continue to struggle on this basis with carriers around improved update management unless they can deliver efficiency, cost or infrastructure savings to Telco’s and justify on a ROI basis with their partners. We all know that on this basis WP has struggled at most hurdles (OEM partner devices, Apps, Marketing, Store Retail, etc).
From a carrier standpoint, this update testing needs to be understood as being a critical performance, compatibility and safety compliance process. Telco’s are charged with ensuring that handsets meet telecommunication regulations. Basically every OS update to a single device essentially means that is a new device & software combination. So one Lumia 930 which received 10 updates in it’s service life is 11 devices as far as a Telco is concerned for testing purposes. One example I can share with readers – which was shared with me by very senior staff from one Australian Telco, was of a WP update which rendered a specific handset in breech of Australian Telecommunication regulations. See this section of the Telecommunications Act:
Telecommunications (Consumer Protection and Service Standards) Act
149 Access to emergency call services
(1) This section applies if:
(a) an emergency call service is operated by a recognised person;
(b) a determination under section 147 requires a carriage service
provider who supplies a standard telephone service to
provide each end-user of that standard telephone service with
access to that emergency call service;
Essentially, an OS update in much demand from it’s small, but vocal, Windows Phone Down Under community rendered the device unable to make 000 emergency calls. Imagine the liability arising out of an emergency call not being able to be made from a mobile and someone dying as a result! This is a critical requirement for all Australian Telco’s, with ACMA oversight, and a key emergency safety feature for Australians. No doubt MS and the device OEM had no intention to have this happen – but unforseen circumstances can and do arise. This is why we have processes with checks and sign-offs. So we shouldn’t be too quick to jump down the path of bypassing carriers for updates. Now this is not to say that MS can’t technically sandbox updates, or improve the relationship and handling of updates with carriers for better results….but carrier’s also have competing platforms and growing resource requirements in these areas. You only have to look at poor old Blackberry in Telstra’s table above: “Telstra resource constraints have delayed testing of this update”. Ouch.
So there a number of hurdles MS need to break down to back-up their suggestion that updates will be coming directly to customers. There is a lot of behind the scenes work they must either be doing or planning to bring carrier’s along this path. I certainly wish them well, but based on the past 5 years….I will count my updates when they are on my phone promptly after a MS blog post – or once my soup is home with me and there are no knocks at the door…
In the short to mid-term, getting on and staying on the Windows Phone/Mobile Insiders preview program might be the only way to guarantee updates direct from MS. However watch out for clauses MS might like to issue with this – like they have with Windows 10. In that case, if you are an Insider and opt for free Windows 10 – then you are obliged to stay on the insider program and commit to test updates for the life of that device.